Park Delivers on Scenic Vistas
Back on the road, just minutes later I see a sign that reads, “Welcome to Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula.” This is “Alaska’s Playground,” and for good reason. The peninsula’s 90% wilderness, delivers world-class fishing and rafting and offers hiking trails and flightseeing tours. The next 80 miles to Seward are a photographer’s dreamscape, with fall foliage decorating wooded valleys and mountainsides, and fishing boats and float planes resting on crystalline lakes.
In Seward, I’m met by a hard, cool rain. From June to August, the town hums with life: cruise ship passengers, paddlers, hikers, mountain bikers and sportfishing enthusiasts. I’m here in mid-September, the tail end of tourist season, when Seward and its harbor are pleasantly still. After a brief stop, I hop in the car and backtrack 4 miles to Herman Leirer Road. Soon enough, the icy giant that is Exit Glacier — estimated to be 23,000 years old — looms in the distance as I make my way to the park’s lone vehicle entrance.
Though much of the park is reachable only by air or boat, Kenai Fjords remains perhaps the most accessible of Alaska’s eight national parks. Much like its counterparts, this expanse of 607,805 acres is a land forged by time and ice, its rocky coasts and glacial bays are the ancestral home of the Sugpiaq people. Wildlife thrives in the icy waters and lush forests, satisfying visitors’ cravings for memorable outdoor adventures.
The rain picks up as I follow the easy, 2.2-mile Glacier Overlook Trail to reach the first of two panoramic vistas at Exit Glacier. Here, the glacier spills down about 3,000 feet from Harding Icefield, a Pleistocene epoch remnant that once covered much of Southcentral Alaska. Awe sweeps over me. A sign marks the glacier’s terminus in 2010, which now is more than 640 yards farther up the valley — a stark reminder of glaciers’ sensitivity to a changing world.
With daylight fading and my stomach rumbling, I return to Seward for dinner at the Flamingo Lounge, a retro-style steakhouse. Local cuisine is part of any good travel experience, so tonight I indulge in halibut chowder and steak to fortify me for tomorrow’s six-hour excursion into the Gulf of Alaska and the national park with Kenai Fjords Tours.